Eating refined carbohydrates can create a “sugar rush.” This spike in your blood sugar happens because your body breaks down carbs into sugar.
But all carbs are not delivered in the same package. Some have a higher glycemic index (GI) than others. The higher the GI, the faster your blood sugar rises.
And high blood sugar (aka hyperglycemia) isn’t something you want to have stick around. Long-term hyperglycemia puts you at risk for damaged nerves, blood vessels, tissues, and organs.
Eating plenty of low GI foods can help you keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
11 foods that lower blood sugar
Add these foods to your grocery list if you’re looking to keep your diet balanced:
FYI: It’s important to follow any advice from your doctor when it comes to managing your diabetes. Eating foods that won’t spike your blood sugar is a great step, but it isn’t a substitute for prescription medication.
What does a GI score mean?
Here’s how GI scores stack up:
- Low: 55 or lower
- Medium: 56 to 69
- High: 70 or higher
GI score (lentils): 27 to 37
GI score (beans): 15 to 37
Even though they’re starchy, lentils and beans have low GI scores. Along with carbs, they also contain essential nutrients like:
The high amounts of soluble fiber they contain help slow down digestion and improve blood sugar after a meal. A small 2017 study found that high fiber intake at breakfast was associated with lower blood glucose after the meal.
Another 2017 study showed similar results. Participants who ate beans and rice had significantly lower postmeal blood sugar levels than those who ate rice alone.
Research also suggests that, in addition to keeping your blood sugar level stable, beans and lentils may be beneficial for type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and weight management.
GI score (peanuts): 7
GI score (cashews): 27
Get ready to go nuts for nuts! They’re heart-healthy (thanks to mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids) and high in antioxidants, and they can even keep your blood sugar in check.
One 2018 study found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate both peanuts and almonds throughout the day had lower fasting and postmeal blood sugar levels.
Another study involving pistachios found that eating 1 ounce twice per day decreased fasting blood sugar by 9 percent.
Nuts might also:
- reduce your risk of heart disease
- increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- reduce blood clotting
GI score (kale): 2 to 4
GI score (spinach): Less than 1
Eating 2 to 3 servings of green leafy vegetables per week has been linked with reduced risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. Whether you eat them in a salad or a stir-fry, they can help keep your blood sugar stable too.
Vegetables have low GI scores, and a 2010 study found that eating about 1.35 servings of green leafy vegetables (equivalent to 1 cup of raw veg) per day could reduce the risk of diabetes by 14 percent.
In addition, a 2016 study suggested that kale can decrease postmeal blood sugar when combined with a high carb meal.
GI score: 0
Eggs clock in at a big ol’ goose egg when it comes to GI score. They also have plenty of healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Research suggests that eating 2 to 4 servings of eggs per week can reduce the risk of diabetes by 40 percent in men.
Eggs might also offer immediate benefits for blood glucose levels. One 2018 study in 42 adults with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes found that eating just one large egg each day reduced fasting blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity.
GI score: 0
Another zero-GI protein source, seafood includes both fish and shellfish. Seafood can provide healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Fattier fish that’s rich in omega-3s might be the best option for keeping blood sugar in check. A 2017 study found that eating 26 ounces of fatty fish per week significantly improved postmeal blood glucose as compared with lean fish.
Omega-3-rich fatty fish will also make your heart happy. The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fish (about 7 ounces total) per week to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Some of the most common fatty fish are:
- lake trout
- albacore tuna
GI score: 34 to 38
An apple a day might keep high blood sugar at bay. With soluble fiber and plant compounds, apples can help prevent diabetes and may also help reduce blood sugar.
A small 2019 study in 18 women found that eating apples 30 minutes before a rice meal significantly lowered postmeal blood sugar.
GI score: 15
In a 2018 study, adding just half an avocado to participants’ breakfast reduced their postmeal glucose. The same study found improvements in HDL (good) cholesterol levels thanks to this avocado goodness.
Try swapping butter for avocado oil to get a blood sugar benefit without giving up your fave dish. A 2017 study found that replacing butter with avocado oil improved both postmeal insulin and blood sugar levels.
GI score (blackberries): 25
GI score (raspberries): 32
GI score (strawberries): 41
GI score (blueberries): 53
Pretty much any fruit that ends with the word “berry” is included in this category. With high amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, berries are a great food to help with blood sugar management.
Research suggests that raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries all have the potential to improve insulin resistance and glucose tolerance.
GI score (chia seed): 15
GI score (flaxseed): 32
Give the phrase “eat like a bird” a whole new meaning. Seeds like chia and flaxseed contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
According to the American Heart Association, incorporating seeds into your diet can help reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve your blood sugar response to food.
A 2018 review found that whole flaxseed improved glycemic control. That includes blood glucose levels, insulin levels, insulin resistance, and insulin sensitivity.
One 2017 study found that 1 ounce of chia seeds taken with 2 ounces of a sugar solution reduced blood sugar levels by 39 percent.
GI score (unsweetened): 16 to 18
GI score (sweetened): 30 to 52
Thanks to its higher protein-to-carb ratio and probiotics, plain yogurt could benefit blood glucose levels.
A large 2014 analysis concluded that yogurt seems to be the only dairy product that lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Flavored yogurts have a higher GI score, but they typically still fall into the “low GI” category. If plain yogurt is a little too boring, you can add some berries, apples, or seeds.
A 2019 study found that adding flaxseed to yogurt improved hemoglobin A1C levels. (That’s a test that measures average blood sugar levels over 3 months.)
GI score: 0
Arguably one of the best and most frequently used savory spices around, garlic can do more than give you pungent breath. The compounds in garlic could help improve insulin sensitivity.
A 2017 review found that garlic supplements helped improve blood glucose control in folks with type 2 diabetes. Participants also saw improvements in their total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol levels within 12 weeks.
Beyond what you eat, there are other lifestyle adjustments you can make to keep your blood sugar from spiking.
Drink more H2O
Research suggests that not drinking enough water can lead to high blood sugar. When your blood sugar gets too high, your body tries to flush it out ASAP. (That can mean lots of bathroom breaks.)
Drinking plenty of water helps you stay hydrated while your body boosts your pee production.
Get your sweat on
According to the American Diabetes Association, exercise increases insulin sensitivity. That allows your body to use that insulin to fuel your body with glucose. Physical activity could lower your blood sugar for 24 hours or longer after a workout.
Manage your portions
Keeping an eye on your serving sizes helps regulate how many calories you’re taking in (and the blood sugar spikes that follow). You can manage your portion sizes by:
- measuring or weighing your food
- using smaller plates
- keeping a food journal
- reading food labels
Maintain a healthy weight
A moderate body weight can help keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. According to the National Diabetes Prevention Program, if you have a higher body weight, losing 5 to 7 percent of your weight could reduce your risk of diabetes by as much as 58 percent.
Lower your stress level
High stress doesn’t help your mental health, and the same goes for your blood sugar levels. When stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline ramp up, they can boost your blood sugar levels.
A nice calming meditation or yoga sesh could help you deal. A 2014 study suggests that sticking to a yoga routine can decrease blood glucose levels.
Choosing low GI foods like nuts and avocado can help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels. That’s important to prevent damage to your nerves and organs. Maintaining a healthy weight, drinking water, and exercising can also help manage your blood sugar.